Farmers and ranchers from across the state had an opportunity to express their concerns surrounding the impact of the coronavirus during a recent conference call with Sen. James Lankford and Oklahoma Farm Bureau leaders.
After the U.S. Senate passed a historic $2 trillion coronavirus aid package late Wednesday, March 25, Lankford shared with OKFB members some of the tenets of the package including additional borrowing authority for the Commodity Credit Corp. and aid for livestock and specialty crop producers.
Under the bill, the CCC receives an additional $14 billion and Secretary Sonny Perdue receives $9.5 billion to allow for unknowns, Lankford said.
“A lot of urban areas have faced a lot more pressure of businesses shut down than we’ve seen in rural areas,” he said. “But there’s a lot of unknowns, so (this bill is) providing some additional headroom.”
The deal also provides support for small businesses – including farms and ranches – through a loan to grant program that can fund payroll, utilities or lease payments.
Below are some of the top concerns of OKFB members who tuned into the call.
A dramatic drop in cattle prices amid the outbreak is one of the biggest concerns for ranchers in Oklahoma, particularly as the wholesale and retail price of beef for consumers rises.
Lankford said he and several other farm state senators have been engaged in discussion to ensure prices are not being manipulated and producers are not being cut out.
Members voiced concern over the status of the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program, as many Oklahoma farms and ranches depend on the guest workers.
Lankford reassured farmers and ranchers that workers with an existing H-2A visa will be let into the country.
“If they have a visa and they’re coming in for work, they get a temperature check, an evaluation,” he said. “They may have to pause for a couple of days just to be able to make sure they have no symptoms, then they’re moving into the country.”
Mexico has tested few people in their country, so Lankford said anyone coming across the border creates a challenge for the U.S. Though some restrictions have been implemented for people traveling for tourism, individuals with work visas are still able to come into the United States.
An idea was discussed that would allow H-2A workers to relocate among farms and ranches as they are needed. Lankford promised to discuss the possibility of a waiver with administration officials.
“That’s very, very reasonable,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out if we can actually get that implemented fast enough that we can make a difference with it.”
After months and months of uncertainty in trade deals, the U.S. made significant progress on a number of deals with Japan, Canada and Mexico, and China. But the recent virus outbreak in China has again caused uncertainty in trade deals.
Most of the trade concerns, in Lankford’s mind, would be for manufacturers awaiting products and inputs from China.
“I don’t see it affecting ag the same way it affects manufacturing,” he said.